ACLU Sues for Federal Records on Grant to Religious Group That Obstructs Trafficking Victims’ Access to Reproductive Health Care

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ACLU Sues for Federal Records on Grant to Religious Group That Obstructs Trafficking Victims’ Access to Reproductive Health Care

FOIA Lawsuit Demands Records on $2 Million Contract to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today filed suit to obtain records related to the federal government’s award of funds to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has routinely denied survivors of human trafficking access to critical health care because of its religious beliefs.

The Freedom of Information Act suit seeks documents related to a recent $2 million federal grant awarded to the USCCB. The group received taxpayer money despite a previous court ruling that the government had violated the Constitution by giving USCCB a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to provide services to human trafficking survivors despite restricting their access to reproductive health services.

“We are shocked and deeply concerned to see history repeating itself with millions of taxpayer dollars funneled into the hands of a religious group that has a long history of refusing critical health care services to the most vulnerable people in their care,” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Brigitte Amiri. “The court has ruled that the federal government cannot give federal funds to those who impose their religious beliefs on others by withholding critical healthcare to those who have been through unspeakable horrors. The public has a right to know what’s going on.”

In 2009, the ACLU filed a lawsuit alleging that the federal government violated the Constitution by permitting USCCB to impose its religiously based restrictions on the types of services trafficked individuals can receive with taxpayer funds. In 2012, a federal district court ruled in favor of the ACLU. During the course of the case, the federal government ended its relationship with USCCB and vowed that it would not contract with USCCB for these services again. As a result, in 2013, the appeals court held that the case was moot.  Despite the court ruling, and the government’s assurance that it would not contract with the bishops again, the government awarded the bishops $2 million in September 2015.

It is estimated that more than 14,000 individuals are trafficked into the United States each year. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, in which individuals are made to labor against their will through force, fraud, or coercion. Many women who are trafficked are raped by traffickers or their acquaintances. Some women who have been trafficked become pregnant after being raped. Denying reproductive health services, and referrals for these services, can further victimize trafficked individuals. Victims of severe forms of human trafficking frequently need reproductive health care services and referrals to lead safe lives, become self-sufficient, and protect themselves and others. These services, and referrals to these services, include emergency contraception, condoms, and in some cases, abortion.

Obstructing access to reproductive health care for trafficking survivors is not the only situation in which the federal government allows USCCB to harm vulnerable populations. For example, USCCB also receives millions of taxpayer dollars to care for refugee and undocumented immigrant minors, and USCCB has also restricted their access to reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion, despite the high rates of sexual assault that these teens suffer.

In addition, USCCB prohibits Catholic hospitals from offering — or even discussing — certain reproductive health care services, even when those services are necessary to protect a woman’ s health or life. These hospitals also receive federal funding and are subject to government oversight. Nearly one in nine hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic facility, and as U.S. hospitals become increasingly affiliated with religious organizations, the health of American women is threatened by the refusal to provide medically appropriate and, often times, lifesaving services.

A copy of the complaint can be found at: https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/03.17.16_complaint.pdf

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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